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Apple serves notice: Don't rip off the iPhone

Apple COO Tim Cook promised Wednesday to "use every weapon at our disposal" in protecting the intellectual property it patented on the iPhone.

Does Apple think the Palm Pre, shown here, rips off the iPhone? We might find out later this year. Corrine Schulze/CNET

Like most people who paid attention to Consumer Electronics Show earlier this month, Apple noticed the Palm Pre.

In response to a question from a financial analyst about Palm's new smartphone and its multitouch interface, Apple COO Tim Cook, without addressing the Pre directly, made sure that everyone on Apple's quarterly earnings call Wednesday knew how Apple feels about intellectual property.

"We will not stand for having our IP ripped off," Cook declared, perhaps firing a shot across the bow of Palm and executive chairman Jon Rubinstein, a former Apple employee. To be clear, Cook did not accuse Palm of such an act, explicitly saying "I don't want to talk about any specific company."

But the context--in which Cook was being questioned about the rising threat to the iPhone from competitors like Research In Motion, Google, and Palm--was clear. Palm showed off some some remarkably iPhone-like traits on the Pre earlier this month, such as swiping the screen to move between windows and using multitouch gestures to zoom in and out of Web pages.

Palm--full of ex-Apple engineers brought over by Rubinstein--has not announced a launch date for the Pre yet, but Apple is clearly watching developments closely. Cook promised to use "every weapon at our disposal" if the company felt the iPhone's intellectual property was at risk, and I'd bet a house in Puerto Vallarta that he's talking about Apple chief legal officer Daniel Cooperman.